Artist of the Month: Tom Ackley

Tom Ackley, Tropical Artist by Josh Garrick. In 2001, when Tom Ackley left his hometown of Chicago to come to Florida, he quickly became immersed in the extraordinary range of activities Florida has to offer.  Like the Ernest Hemingway of the painting set, surfing, fishing and kayaking became his passions – and the subject matter for his Art. 

Studying with acclaimed artist Gregory Graham Grant, whose relentless attention to detail and light trained Tom to see his subject matter in a different (Floridian) light, Tom learned the ‘fundamentals’ of painting only to break them, developing a surrealist style fused with Japanese techniques and local imagery. Tom creates accessible images of his much-loved environment and wildlife using a bold style and ‘dramatic’ control of detail. 

Tom Ackley - Sumi House

Sumi House


The ancient Japanese art of Sumi influenced Tom’s style making it possible for Tom to paint with nature, controlling the water in some areas while allowing the ink to separate naturally in others. Drawn to the striking power of sumi images, while having been created with such seemingly simple brush strokes, Tom applied this philosophy to his tropical creations using acrylics, pastels, watercolors and inks. Tom Ackley invites the viewer to see his work up close, revealing the finesse and control of each brush stroke. 

Tom resides in Ormond Beach with his wife Vicki-Jo, three dogs, and a lot of paint-brushes. 

In a recent interview, Tom answered questions about what it is like to be a FLORIDA ARTIST …

Tom Ackley


1.  Tell us a little about yourself. How did you get started? 

I always had the ability to render images very well as a child.  I would even practice drawing the pictures upside down and focus on the lines.  If I wanted a picture of anything I was into at the time, I would just sit down and create it – and quickly too. I can’t come back to a piece, even to this day. I just keep at it till it’s done, working late in the evening, often till 2 am.  I started taking my art seriously four years ago when I started painting for a creative painting company called Art House here in Ormond Beach.  Once Donnie Wright taught me the art of faux finishing, we did every kind of amazing project you could imagine.  I then did my first formal painting – a huge portrait of my late pug China, which still hangs in my home today.  It was ruff, (no pun intended), but I saw that with work, I could produce eye catching art. 

I approached Gregory Graham Grant for entry into his Art Quest School of Art and Design and related well to his teaching style. Mr. Grant is a supremely talented artist when it comes to composition and detail.  My early art had been strict and methodical, and it felt like I was doing math problems instead of making art!  My influences HAD BEEN Wyland and Guy Harvey, two very talented and intrepid businessmen/artists, but my soul has never been more affected than by such a work as The Old Man and the Sea, the film by Alexander Petrov. His tireless work of two and a half years and 20,000 oil paintings is amazing. The surreal twist he puts on the film, with everything appearing so natural is amazing.  I hope to accomplish something as great as his works one day.

Tom Ackley


2. Please use your own words to describe your art... and interesting ‘responses’ you’ve gotten from viewers...  

Studying with Gregory Graham Grant, I began to loosen up, working tirelessly to find my voice – that thing that makes you an individual in this vast art world.  I began to draw on my past as a musician. The genius of the Beatles is that their music is so easy to hear.  It’s happy, full of emotion and memories.  That is what I wanted to convey in my work, appealing to people who enjoy the beauty of the tropics. I like to think of my art ‘like a fish bowl’ in your home. You look at it to relax. It is a split second, a moment in time with power and emotion. Painting in Sumi style with ink is such a rewardingly creative experience.  It is like I am painting with nature, letting the water and ink do as it will, and controlling it at the same time. As it dries it becomes something greater than I could have imagined.

Tom Ackley


3. When/What happened to first make you think of yourself as an artist?

It took me a while to consider myself an artist.  When I sold my first piece I knew I was on to something.  My first showing of art was at the French Market in Daytona.  It was shocking to me how vulnerable I felt with my pieces being looked at by so many.  I never felt so exposed in my life.  But my pieces effected many people.  They would just stop and stare, and I saw that my work was appealing to all who walked by.  That is when I started the life long journey to becoming a contributing artist.

Tom Ackley


4. What inspires you NOW?

My main inspiration now is water.  Just about everything I do has something to do with water.  My big goal is to swim and film our wild dolphins.  I take my ocean kayak out to sea about a mile and a half off shore.  I paddle out to the shrimp boats and trail behind them.   There is always a huge pod of dolphins feeding off  the bi-catch from the net.  I get into formation with these amazing creatures.  I can smell their breath; I could even tap one on the head with my paddle if I wanted to.  You see their eyes as they come up and down and there is something so soul shaking that I can’t get enough.  To enter into the water and take images of our wild dolphins and create beautiful painting would be fantastic.

Tom Ackley

All through the night


5. Where is your favorite place to create art?

I create all of my ink pieces on the back of an eighty year old baby grand piano that I completely faux finished in white crackle.  It is the perfect height for me when I stand to paint.  I am 6’ 6” tall so it is just right.  Plus it is in the central part of the house, so it keeps me from being a hermit. What I enjoy most about being creative is that I can make any image my mind can summon.  It almost makes life limitless. The works are my history; each one is different – like a song.  It has given me true purpose.

Tom Ackley

Daytona Beach Main Street Pier


6. Describe the “perfect” YOU painting.  Have you achieved it?

My most recent painting – Power and Beauty – is a strong example of what I want to convey in the style I use. I still have a very long way to go before I reach what I feel is great, but I try to live by a saying my boss always puts in his emails, “The best get better.”   I hope to last. Anyone can be famous, but it takes true talent to last through the years.  My art will always morph and change, and it’s an exciting journey to see what comes next.

Tom Ackley - Power and Beauty

Power and Beauty


7. Painting takes a lot of creative energy.  How do you “re-charge” your batteries?

I don’t get much recharging; I leveled off at about 6 hours of sleep a night.  I work a 40-hr day job and paint houses on the side.  When I do my art is when I recharge. From 11 pm to 2 am it is just me and the brush.

Tom Ackley - Eye of the Sea

Eye of the Sea


8. What’s your fondest hope for the future of your career?

I am a business man at heart.  I hope to earn a secure living while experiencing all of the amazing journeys an artist’s life has to bring.  In a perfect world it would be ‘the Keys’ in the summer and Savannah in the winter.

Tom Ackley - Night shift

Night shift


9. How can readers find and purchase your art?

People can check Tom Ackley on facebook for future events or visit

Tom’s work will be exhibited at the James Harper Fine Art Gallery, 44 West Granada Blvd in Ormond Beach, FL 32174 with an Opening on April 6 from 7 to 10 pm.  The exhibit will be shown throughout the month of April.

Tom is the official artist of the Halifax Oyster Fest set for April 28 from 11 am to 10 pm at Manatee Island Daytona Beach where a limited number of signed posters are available.

And Tom has been chosen to do a promotional art design in Sumi ink for Guy Harvey for his upcoming event to save the saw tooth shark on June 6 at the Marina Grand in Daytona Beach.     





Josh Garrick is the Florida Arts Editor for Wandering Educators


All photos courtesy and copyright Tom Ackley